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The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes

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Album Review

One of the first box sets for completists only, 1993's ten-disc The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959 was considered nearly a necessity by anyone interested in jazz vocals. Verve returned to the catalog 12 years later with a much tighter, much smarter collection: The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes. Encompassing six discs, the set skips the many live performances and the few alternate takes included on the previous box. Overall, the work compares well to her earlier material for Columbia. Although the old familiar cracks rarely appeared in her voice during her Columbia, Decca, and Commodore years, the song selections weren't all gold, and the needs of that era (the 1930s and '40s) dictated that each side end around the three-minute mark. With Verve during the '50s, Holiday recorded nothing but standards in the studio, and indulged in many longer performances that often resulted in relaxed, methodical songs. Aside from Holiday's mastery of vocal jazz as a form, the practice also allowed for some lengthy, perfectly loving solos by musicians including Ben Webster ("Ill Wind") Harry "Sweets" Edison ("I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Day in, Day Out"), Benny Carter ("I Get a Kick Out of You," "Prelude to a Kiss"), and Charlie Shavers ("I Wished on the Moon"). If the previous "Complete on Verve" set was an expensive bauble that listeners rarely returned to, this "Complete Verve" is a much brighter proposition. (The accordion-like packaging, however, leaves much to be desired.)


Born: 07 April 1915 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s

The first popular jazz singer to move audiences with the intense, personal feeling of classic blues, Billie Holiday changed the art of American pop vocals forever. More than a half-century after her death, it's difficult to believe that prior to her emergence, jazz and pop singers were tied to the Tin Pan Alley tradition and rarely personalized their songs; only blues singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey actually gave the impression they had lived through what they were singing. Billie Holiday's...
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